The Dalai Lama waved at us!
And then he bowed to welcome us!
Well, you may have figured out that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not in our classroom–though somehow his gentle smile and warm laugh made him feel very near. He was in Vancouver to meet with students and educators at the Youth Heart-Mind Summit. The theme was Be the Village. Through the wonders of technology, we joined classes from many locations to watch and listen to a conversation he had with high school students. The topic was about cultivating kindness, empathy, and compassion in all people. I have to say, I was very impressed with the poise of the grade 12 MCs and panelists. How very thrilling that day must have been.
As well, Shane Koyczan, a fabulous spoken word artist (I think “poet” works for me) performed. More about that in another post. And more about Heart-Mind learning later.
We tried something new while watching. We had our first Backchannel Chat, an online private virtual conversation room which each student accessed via our Netbook laptops. The chat gave us an opportunity to discuss our thoughts, observations, and questions among ourselves. I purchased a year-long access to the features of Backchannel Chat for about $16.00 to give me access to all the features of the program.
I learned a lot from this experience. So did the students, as you’ll see. Not everything was positive, but it was not a complete failure either. If other teachers have tried or are considering using a back channel, I’d appreciate your feedback.
Here are a few screenshots of the archived chat (click thumbnails to enlarge). I sprayed out the names as I promised the students this analysis was not about embarrassing anyone, it was about finding solutions.
We broke into groups of four and wrote Plus – Minus – Solutions posters. Students talked about and recorded their thoughts, then shared with classmates.
I’ve summarized their feedback:
- It’s a great way to show what you’re thinking and see what others are thinking.
- You can see what others think of your ideas–they can respond to you.
- You can respond to the entire class more easily.
- It stays quiet while a presentation is on.
- Someone is able to moderate the chat.
- As the chat went on, people were more serious and on topic.
- We become more tech savvy.
- Because the sound quality of the webcast was poor and because we are not used to the Dalai Lama’s accent, we couldn’t hear very well and comment meaningfully.
- Some people didn’t know what they could write about.
- Some students got off topic fast and began talking about battery life, naming favourite actors, injecting hashtags, and making other random, pointless comments.
- A conversation about the Dalai Lama’s nationality, appearance, and ethnicity lead to misunderstanding and maybe some hurt feelings. (We processed this after the fact.)
- Some students used texting language.
- Too many one word comments reduced the usefulness of the chat and made information flow too quickly.
- Some students logged in and out to change their name and their avatar, wasting time.
- Create criteria for comments that everyone follows. (Yes, that came from the students!)
- Think before you type!
- Run two different chats so people can read and respond to the comments. This would slow the chat down.
- We need to work on writing complete, thoughtful, on-topic sentences.
- Have more than one person monitoring the chat.
- People who are disrespectful or off topic would be warned and then would be kicked out of the chat.
I learned so much from the experience of this back channel about my student’s strengths and needs. I had no illusions that it would be a flawless event, but I sense that taking a risk with this technology will be rewarding for us.
The next time we use Backchannel Chat as a learning tool, we will share our results here.
Do you have suggestions? Are there other tools that can help encourage dialogue about big ideas? Does communicating in virtual space improve or inhibit dialogue when we are face to face? Please share your thoughts in a comment.